On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I found myself on the campus of the University of Southern California with some time on my hands. I wandered around the area (map) near Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the USC Caruso Catholic Student Center. I was pleased to notice that next door to the Catholic student center is the USC Hillel student center. Being a Jewish member of an inter-faith Catholic family, experiencing the adjacency of Jewish and Catholic institutions felt meaningful. As I rounded the block, I happened upon a metal sculpture affixed to the Hillel building that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to snap a photo. The sculpture illustrates a famous quotation from Hillel, one of Judaism's most influential teachers. Hillel lived and taught during the time when King Herrod ruled the Roman province of Judea, was an elder contemporary of Jesus and died in the year 10 CE.
It's worth a moment to explain the religious context context of this beautiful sculpture, and it comes from the Talmud:
...It happened that a certain non-Jew came before Shammai and said to him, “I will convert to Judaism, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away with the builder's tool that was in his hand. He came before Hillel and said to him, "Convert me." Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
This text is universally recognizable as the Golden Rule, also called the "ethic of reciprocity," that is foundational to Judaism and Christianity, and also figures prominently in Islam in many other faiths. It has contributed to the development of secular philosophy and has served as a basis for the modern idea and definition of human rights. There is a contemporary world peace movement that was inspired by the Golden Rule called the Charter of Compassion. Here is a brilliant TED Talk given by religious writer Karen Armstrong in which she tells how the Charter came into being.
Image: Montreal Botanical Garden
Is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. He recently left his day job as a therapist, counselor, and consultant to follow his surprising dream of becoming a rabbi, and will be writing about his experiences during his year in Israel.